o ensure decisions are made, your aging loved ones should appoint someone with the power of attorney, which provides another person with the authority to make important decisions. Properly naming someone with the power of attorney not only avoids a court-appointed guardian who may make ill-fitting decisions but also avoids a lengthy time-consuming and costly experience.
An important distinction also exists where two separate people can have a different power of attorney responsibilities, namely the difference between financial and medical power of attorney.
Protecting aging loved ones requires difficult decisions regarding their health, safety and care. The first step in protecting aging loved ones is considering and appointing another individual with the Power of Attorney. Power of Attorney is a signed document which allows another individual, an Agent, to handle personal affairs such as financials and retirement accounts, important decisions regarding personal property, etc.
Usually, after the Agent, there are two additional options called successors, who will act as the de facto Agent if the originally designated Agent cannot serve. If no one is designated, a Court-appointed Guardian will act as the Agent, which can sometimes take a long time – sometimes delaying important decisions for a month or longer. The Court-appointed Guardian is not only time-intensive but also very costly, with the likelihood of ongoing Court involvement and consultation very high.
In other words, before making important decisions, the court-appointed Guardian will likely have to consult with the judge or court permission before making any big decisions. Also, for some bigger decisions such as estate planning or other asset-planning, the court-appointed Guardian would likely be prohibited from doing anything.
The most important reason to have a valid Power of Attorney document is that it specifically designates what an agent can and cannot do. Different types of power of attorney also exist, including financial and medical power of attorney.
A financial power of attorney allows the agent to access bank accounts, pay bills, withdraw funds from bank accounts, cash checks and manage your investments. In addition, an agent may have the power to give gifts. Similarly, a durable power of attorney for medical designates a person to make health care decisions on another’s behalf.
This medical power of attorney is important because, while Pennsylvania law Act 169 allows a close family member to make certain medical decisions, the medical power of attorney can instruct the medical agent to make decisions under certain conditions such as terminal illness or permanent vegetation.
Sometimes, and particularly in the context of children and siblings, disputes may arise when one person is named Power of Attorney. Basic human instinct and reactions can cause jealousy and disagreements over who is appointed with this authority, in particular, because the designated person does not necessarily have to provide information regarding the parent to the other family members.
In some more extreme cases, the person designated with medical power of attorney can even restrict access others’ access to the parent, if the agent believes the visitation might be detrimental to the parent’s health. However, power of attorney can be revoked at any time for any reason, as long as the parent is competent.
To revoke this power of attorney, the parent should draft and inform a document revoking this power of attorney. Unfortunately, if the parent is no longer competent, he cannot revoke the power of attorney, which either requires other family members to file a court petition challenging the agent or waiting until the person’s death, which automatically terminates the power of attorney.
Since it is such an important responsibility, before naming someone with power of attorney for either responsibility, carefully consider the options and select person, instead of allowing emotional baggage weigh too heavily on the decision-making process. Thankfully, power of attorney can be revoked at any time as long as the person naming and revoking the power of attorney is deemed mentally competent.
Contact us here for more information from Kim A. Bodnar, Attorney at Law, or to schedule a consultation in our office in Pittsburgh.
NOTE: This is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
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